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Macworld|iWorld's South Park talk

On the first day of Macworld|iWorld, one of the talks on the main stage was by three people who help bring the animated series South Park to life each week: David Lenna (CTO), Ryan Quincy (Animation Producer), and Eric Stough (Animation Director and Producer). It was an interview-format talk, with the questions being asked by Andy Ihnatko. There were clips from the series as well as from last fall's documentary Six Days To Air.

The unique style of South Park's animation comes from its humble beginnings. When co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker first started shooting animation, they were actually using construction paper cutouts. Time constraints make that virtually impossible now, so the series is animated in Maya on Macs (keeping to that app much as possible so they don't have to switch between tools), using high-powered 3D rendering software to make everything look like it was shot with cut-up construction paper.

It was interesting to get some insight into the process of putting a show together in six days. Highlights of the things they discussed:

* Very little animation gets cut: They usually have about 24 minutes of animation for a 22-minute show.
* Blizzard got them actual environments and files to drop in when they shot the episode "Make Love, Not Warcraft," which was largely set within the game's environment.
* Their network is about 45 XServes and a stack of Mac Pros, which they pointed out, are getting a bit long in the tooth.
* When a suggestion is made for a new tool or workflow, the hard rule is that it cannot take any longer than things take now. Even today the schedule is so tight, if it takes an extra 10 seconds on every machine, the whole schedule is off.
* They have a team of people working right now on converting episodes to HD from SD. One of the episodes that will likely always live in SD is the aforementioned "Make Love, Not Warcraft."
* Initially they thought they might be able to get an episode out in two weeks, but have managed to tighten the process down to less than one.

There were also clips shown from the episode "Major Boobage." There was video of what the initial storyboards look like shown side by side with the finished product, and some video of live action that was filmed as reference and animated over.

It wasn't a long enough talk for them to get into the nuts and bolts of workflow, but it was very nice to know that part of how an entire show can go from a funny idea to a finished product in less than a week is thanks to Macs.

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